Saturday, May 31, 2014

Commuting - Racing or Relaxing?

From user Landahlauts via Creative Commons in Flickr

In Paris for a week, I commuted about 3-4 kilometers back and forth to the National Library every day from the hotel to attend a conference. I would wear the clothes I would be in all day and didn't take a helmet to Paris, so no helmet. I mostly rode at a much more leisurely pace than I do at home but then the bikeshare bikes don't support much in the way of speed (or braking either, so perhaps that's good).

In my Arlington-Washington commute, I spend most of the time on trails and wear bicycling garb (ie, lyrca etc.) and try to maintain a high rate of speed - I work up a sweat. I shower and change at work. But then the distance is more like 17 kilometers one way. And I wear a helmet.

Parke Davis employees of 1899 leaving work, many on bicycles

Before cars become popular and extremely inexpensive, bicycles were briefly used by some for commuting much like Parisians do now, or so evidence like this short film clip seem to suggest.

I have given some thought about the similarity and differences between the commuting I did in Paris, which is less of a production (in the sense of not wearing special clothes, helmets, etc.) and what I do at home. I have concluded that the similarities (it is still biking) are more important than the differences. I regard Capital Bikeshare riders here as fellow travelers, so to speak, in a real sense.

Something unusual - an abandoned (unlocked) Capital Bikeshare bike

One thing I really enjoy about bikeshare biking, which I have done in Paris several times and in Boston, is that I immediately lose any concern with my rate of travel - unlike when I am on a road bike and I sometimes have to fight a desire to go fast (or as fast as I can, anyway). A typical bikeshare bike immediately says to me as I sit on it something about the improbability of going fast (I guess) so I don't think of the experience in terms of speed, but simply of pleasing forward motion. Since my misguided competitive urge that appears while sitting on a road bike disappears, the experience seems better than riding a road bike! (But I may be reading too much into this since I have done most of my bikeshare biking in Paris, and being in Paris may have something to do with this.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Velib' - the Best Part of Paris?

Getting a bike near the hotel

In Parisian traffic


Rush hour

All the slots are full!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bike Share Pricing, Paris vs US

Me some years back with a Velibe bicycle in Paris

I am fortunate enough to have a trip planned to Paris in a week. I will be at some meetings at the national library for most of the week. Very nice. The hotel I will be at is about 3 km from the national library, along the Seine river. It is very easy to navigate back and forth using a bikeshare bike from Velibe.

I have already purchased my seven day subscription for Velibe when I will be in Paris. The cost is only 8 Euros for a week. By comparison, CitiBike in NYC is 9.95 (plus tax!) for one day and $25 (again, plus tax!) for a seven day "access pass." Capital Bikeshare here in the DC area is at once more and less - $7 for 24 hours but there is no seven day option, rather one can pay $15 for three days - uck. (Taxes are apparently included for Capital Bikeshare.)

The American view of pricing bikeshare is that the operational costs are supposed to more or less be covered by the user fees - but typically the short term rental folks are subsidizing those with annual subscriptions so it is all relative. In Paris they must be taking the view that bikeshare is more like public transit, where typically "the farebox" (revenue direct from users) is only a portion of the support. This so-called farebox recovery rate can be all over the place - in Austin Texas, it seems to be less than ten percent! - while in Chicago it is more than 50 percent. But for now Americans want bikeshare to pay for itself - 100 percent.

Hmm. Ironically my use of Velibe in Paris will be covered by the American taxpayer who will be funding this incidental expense of my trip, so the French taxpayer is, in this very very minor way, subsiding the US of A.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lenin and Cycling

Today I read in the NYTimes that the Marxist Internet Archive site ( was forced to pull down their texts from the English version of the complete works of Karl Marx because they are under copyright and defended vigorously from infringement. Hmm. Hard to imagine.

Thinking about Marxism and so on, I was reminded that Vladimir Lenin was a sometimes-cyclist, at least before he returned to Russia to lead a revolution.

In 1910, leaving in exile in France, Vladimir Il'ich had an accident while riding his bike and followed up with a lawsuit against the offending motorist.
I have received your postcard—merci for the news. As far as the bicycle is concerned I thought I should soon receive the money, but matters have dragged on. I have a suit pending and hope to win it. I was riding from Juvisy[?not sure] when a motorcar ran into me and smashed my bicycle (I managed to jump off). People helped me take the number and acted as witnesses. I have found out who the owner of the car is (a viscount, the devil take him!) and now I have taken him to court (through a lawyer). I should not be riding now, anyway, it is too cold (although it’s a good winter, wonderful for walks). Letter to his sister Masha written early in 1910
Pretty good accident avoidance technique jumping off the bike during a crash for the father of the October Revolution. . .

Apparently justice in France at the time was swift, even for the to-be leader of the Russian proletariat - by the end of the month, he writes, "My bicycle case ended in my favour." (Letter to his sister also in January 1910.

It seems Lenin was not crazy about Paris and cycling, writing to his brother that, "I have often thought of the danger of accidents when I have been riding my bicycle through the centre of Paris, where the traffic is simply hellish."

Almost 100 year later in Vladivostok, I encountered this entrepreneurial young post-Soviet Russian who was earning a living selling chances to ride a trick bicycle three or five meters successfully - the steering was rigged up so that left is right and vice-versa. This, it turns out, isn't easy (at all) to do.

Yes. Or rather no, I don't know what the significance of this is.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Distracted Driver, Nun Edition

Nuns using bicycles - but not what I observed yesterday - from Flickr user FixedGear aka Pete

Yesterday my wife and I went to a Nationals day baseball game, a very traditional and pleasing daytime spring activity. (The Nationals also won, and the pitcher had a complete shutout game for the first time in his short major league career, so that was cool.) We drive a car to the games . . .

On the way home, while merging onto the SE Freeway in the District of Columbia, I was surprised that the Jeep SUV that ended up behind me was being driven by two nuns in traditional habits. Because of the sunglasses they were wearing and their choice of vehicle as well as certain aspects of their appearance, at first I thought they some people simply dressed up as nuns, but their Virginia "choose life" license plate and further thinking led me to realize, no, these are real nuns out tooling down the freeway in their Jeep. The nun riding shotgun in the front was apparently too old to be familiar with modern communications technology but since they were apparently late for some important event (or whatever) the driver was texting while driving. Yeah, on the freeway. Oblivious, apparently, to the implications or possibilities for a poor outcome.

As a mostly-cyclist, this sort of thing drives me crazy. If we can't trust the nuns to work out the moral and other problems with texting while driving, then . . . oh well. And the noise level from dedicated motorists whose view is that it is entirely the cyclists who break the law (Google reports about 16,800,000 hits for "cyclists break law") - yeah.

And no, I don't have a photo of this because I was driving my car. Not messing with phones or cameras. Their plate was VA 6090CL.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Striking Workers With Bicycles - 1916 Photograph

Sometimes it takes a little looking, and zooming in, to find photographs from 100 years ago (or so) of bicycles and cyclists.

Bain Collection photograph from Library of Congress of striking workers "on parade"
Catalog record:
Title - Cloak Makers Parade, 1916
Creator(s) - Bain News Service, publisher
Date Created/Published - 1916.
Medium - 1 negative : glass ; 5 x 7 in. or smaller.
Reproduction Number - LC-DIG-ggbain-22182 (digital file from original negative)
Call Number: LC-B2- 3907-14 [P&P]
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
The catalog record does not indicate the inclusion in this photograph of cyclists, who are at left.

Detail from above photograph showing bicycles and cyclists in parade on this July day in 1916

A helpful Flickr user clarifies:
There is another (similar) photo in The evening world., July 08, 1916, Final Edition, Image 1 with the following text: "The picture shows the striking cloak and suit makers lined up before office of the Joint board, Cloak and Suit Makers' Union at No. 34 East Twenty-first Street, to draw their weekly allowance of $2 each. The line, four deep, reached down to Fourth Avenue and around into Twentieth Street. About $80,000 is paid to the strikers each week by the board." (

Saturday, April 19, 2014